Moments in History | Hektoen International

Gerard van Swieten and his reforms

A massive statue in Vienna shows the empress Maria Theresia, imperial in bronze as she had been in life, surrounded by her generals and by an ennobled Dutch physician, the Baron Gerard van Swieten. She had recruited him from the medical department of the great Herman Boerhaave in Leiden, and he had come to Vienna […]

The philosopher’s dementia

To be the world’s greatest philosopher in the prime of life is no guarantee against developing the ravages of dementia in old age. This is what happened to Immanuel Kant, a little man scarcely five feet tall followed by a devoted servant with an umbrella, who would take his daily walk at so regular an […]

Saul Farber on St. Helena

Peter H. Berczeller Dordogne, France     Portrait of Saul Farber I went to see Saul Farber in his new office in the spring of 2000. For some forty years he had been our chief, our role model, the long-term creative force behind the department of medicine and indeed the entire medical school, the man […]

Percussion of the chest: Leopold Auenbrugger

Percussion for examination of the chest was first described in 1754 in a little book written in Latin as ” a new discovery that enables the physician from the percussion of the human thorax to detect the diseases hidden within the chest”. At publication the book was ignored and percussion received little attention until popularized […]

The most loathsome disease of the emperor Galerius

“His disease was occasioned by a very painful lingering disorder. His body, swelled by an intemperate course of life to an unwieldy corpulence, was covered with ulcers, and devoured by innumerable swarms of those insects who have given the name to a most loathsome disease.” – Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman […]

A colorful but tyrannical chief

Old building of the Peking Union Medical College in Beijing   The great professor of medicine with the Charles Boyer accent would make ward rounds followed by some thirty students living in constant fear of being publicly humiliated. “You” he would say “where do you come from ?” – and wherever it was he would […]

Edward Jenner and the dairymaid

Small pox has plagued mankind since time immemorial, causing huge epidemics with great loss of life and often changing the course of history. The disease could be prevented or ameliorated by variolation, the subcutaneous inoculation with fluid from smallpox lesions into non-immune individuals. Variolation had been used for centuries, even for members of royal families. […]

Healthcare for the popes

Guy de Chauliac. Bandaging the leg of Pope Clement VI at Avignon, c.1348, Ernest Board (1877–1934), Wellcome Library   Guy de Chauliac was the personal physician of three of the seven Popes forced to reside in Avignon during their so-called Babylonian captivity. Although he wrote a famous textbook on surgery, he practiced mainly as a physician, and […]

Doctor bites policeman in Chicago religious dispute

St. Volodmyr and  Olha Cathedral The episode took place in Chicago about half a century ago. At the time some 100,000 Ukrainians lived in the greater Chicago area, mostly in a near-west neighborhood referred to as the Ukrainian village. They were mostly (c.70%) Catholics of the Byzantine or Eastern rite, adhering to the old Julian […]

The King’s-Evil and sensory experience in Richard Wiseman’s Severall Chirurgicall Treatises

Adam S. Komorowski & Sang Ik Song Ireland   Charles II touching a patient for the King’s Evil (scrofula) Throughout many centuries, the monarchs of England maintained as royal prerogative the ability to heal the sick by virtue of their miraculous touch alone. William of Malmesbury (c.1090-c.1143) first described the use of the thaumaturgic touch by […]